No big deal – ★★½
There was a pretty fun article on Indiewire recently which argued that the Fast and The Furious series was “the Densest, Most Complicated Franchise in Hollywood”. It’s written slightly tongue-in-cheek, but makes some very valid points. The F&F films feature no cash-grabbing 3D or IMAX versions and have no need to refresh and re-boot things every few years. The article came to mind while watching the 3D-converted version of Man of Steel, a new take on a character that was resurrected only seven years ago in the criminally under-rated Superman Returns. It follows on from last summer’s pointless Amazing Spider-Man and seeing the third Incredible Hulk in ten years in The Avengers.
On board this time is a fanboy’s dream-team of 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch director Zack Snyder, Inception and Batman man Christopher Nolan on producer and story credits and his Dark Knight colleague David S. Goyer as screenwriter. They’ve decided to tell the story of Superman’s early years, being sent from Kyrpton, acclimatising to life on earth and handling a quest for revenge from a man who tried to take over Krypton before its collapse – Michael Shannon’s General Zod. Starring opposite Henry Cavill’s Supes is Amy Adams as the intrepid Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Lois Lane. And it’s fitting for a film released on Father’s Day weekend that the film would provide two iconic dads for our hero – Russell Crowe’s Jor-El and Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent (who as all good trivia fans will have noticed have both played Robin Hood in the past too).It’s a brilliant cast but Snyder has them all playing things quite straight-laced with only Shannon deciding to ham it up a bit in a performance that has most in common with his crazy cop from last year’s Premium Rush, he’s absolutely brilliant and keeps you interested throughout. Meanwhile Cavill’s most memorable assets are his dimpled chin and chiseled torso. Any charisma or charm that was brought by the more iconic custodians of the cape like Christopher Reeve or Dean Cain (yes really) has been cut out by a script that lets you know early on that it plans to go dark by destroying an entire planet and using Hans Zimmer’s score to max out on sad, emotional strings, just in case you weren’t sure how you should be feeling.
Man of Steel’s script is a little pudgy and over-long, and puts forward some illogical series of events that make things seem kinda rushed, but in a pretty slow way… The first hour and a half of the film is very engaging, but then things all get too much as the shit starts to hit the fan in the final act. While Superman doesn’t fly around the earth to turn back time like he did in 1978, things are just as daft with Metropolis being slowly turned into a grey wasteland by using two massive devices that Shannon’s General Zod takes great joy in calling “THE WORLD ENGINES”. Hollywood blockbusters now demand a ridiculous, bombastic pay-off and it is possible to get it right as evidenced by the aforementioned Fast Six and Avengers films, but unfortunately it just doesn’t work here, with the destruction of a supposedly iconic city having no real emotional impact on an old grizzled film reviewer like me.
The film looks brilliant with flawless effects taking us into Krypton like no other film or TV series had before, likewise the scenes in Kansas (when you’re not being bombarded with subliminal advertising for 7-11 or Sears) work really well too. All of the establishing sequences are dealt with in an intelligent, sensible way and it really did feel like we were seeing a fresh take on things. There are some pretty heavy questions being asked about how a modern world would adapt to having a new hero being handed to them and the allusions to the New Testament just about work too. If the final half hour of the film hadn’t felt so OTT, we could have had a really solid superhero story on our hands but instead it somehow became a bit of a chore to finish it. The most fun scenes of the film are just Lois and Clark talking and Amy Adams (as you’d expect) handles herself impeccably, if the inevitable sequel arrives Snyder would do well to dedicate a little more time into their relationship.
Snyder’s an incredibly talented man whose detractors probably outweigh his supporters at this stage but if he’d just reigned it in a little in the final half hour and allowed our hero to be a little bit more fun (and whisper it, “entertaining”), then we could have had a worthy contribution to the Kal-El canon, unfortunately it looks like I’ll be giving Brandon Routh a call to see if he wants to call round and watch a 300 and Sucker Punch double-bill instead.
USA / Directed By: Zack Snyder / Written By: David S. Goyer / Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne / 143min / Action / Release: 14 June 2013 (Ireland, UK, USA, Canada)